By Wole Oladapo
The latest strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has in the last few months called into question the place of university education in Nigeria.
Judging by the quality of the opinions and the dispositions of the different parties to the strike, it might not be too hasty to conclude that Nigeria has already arrived in a post-education era far ahead of other nations. As I will show subsequently, it is not only clear now that Nigeria can no longer afford to fund public university education, but that it does not have to.
In a situation of competing needs, basic economics teaches that one must make a choice guided by priority. Nigeria has made that choice, and unsurprisingly, public university education is not one of them. Apparently, a country that borrows to pay the salaries of politicians and civil servants, some of whom actively oversee its plundering, is no longer rich enough to fund public university education.
A state that has to fund its security apparatuses to fight banditry and terrorism; evangelize, empower, and reintegrate the same terrorists into society; and allegedly pay a fat ransom to the unrepentant ones among them to secure the release of the citizens they abduct, already has too much on its plate. As if that is not enough, the state has to make provision for the greed of budget-padding politicians and civil servants annually.
The interests of the elite crude oil thieves too must be acknowledged, if not actively protected. Yet, the foreign exchange black market must be guarded jealously. How on earth does a government exist in this financial entanglement and still have anything left to subsidize university education that is now widely believed to be a scam?
It was in the news recently that Nigeria now has twenty million out-of-school children. That was another feather in our national cap of indignity. That 20 million is approximately the population of Congo, Liberia, Central African Republic, and Mauritania added up.
As a country, we now boast of two impending tragedies: a population of young people neglected in the ideological embrace of anti-knowledge terrorists by failed governance, and another population of young people daily supervised into oblivion in a multi-billion naira scam that is ‘free’ public basic education across the country.
But we have nothing to fear, as we will handle whatever lies ahead the way we are handling the current tragedies. The good news in the immediate is that what is meant to educate the 20 million out-of-school children might end up making us new politicians and civil servant billionaires to celebrate and worship.
Applaudingly, the government is currently doing well funding the Ruga project, which promises the country a steady supply of beef and dairy products for local consumption and export. Despite the challenges of insecurity and criminality that they face, Nigerian herders have always ensured a constant supply of beef, milk, and other dairy products.
The cattle business appears to be a promising source of foreign exchange inflows and it deserves the priority status it now enjoys. Yes, public universities too produce graduates for export. But the problem is that they do so at public expense, and, when exported, their exports do not start to send home remittances until years after. More so, we do not lack an appetite for what cattle produce, but we have no use for the thousands of ‘half-baked’ graduates produced annually by public universities.
Meanwhile, Nigeria does not joke with matters of faith. But from all indications, the gods are angry with Nigeria more than any other country in the world. That is why it is not even enough of appeasement to the gods that the whole country is now a giant museum of worship centers, from makeshifts to architectural masterpieces.
Our leaders, in their wisdom, have sustained an annual budgetary allocation to Christian and Muslim pilgrimages to Jerusalem and Mecca, respectively, to offer to the gods in the holy lands more acceptable supplications. It is not impossible that the gods despise the prayers and sacrifices offered in our land because it is defiled by innocent blood. Unarguably, the prayers and sacrifices offered in the holy lands cannot go unanswered before the gods.
Even the innocent blood often shed within its territories is not pure enough to defile Israel. Saudi Arabia, too, is too careful to give the Jamal Khashoggi treatment to its dissident citizens on its own soil. Those are holy lands that mirror the paradise for which we work and labour in religions to attain in the afterlife. Therefore, Nigeria’s prioritizing pilgrimages to them over funding university education is justified because university education neither appeases angry gods nor assures anyone of paradise.
Lastly, it is not difficult to admit that universities do not enjoy the pride of place in the supply of the fine quality leaders who have ruled Nigeria since independence. In its few years, Nigeria has been ruled by those with and those without a university education. Even those without any verifiable certificates and those with fabricated or controversial ones have and are still aspiring to hold high offices.
Unsurprisingly, behind all of them is a raucous crowd of admirers who regard them as legendary and their accomplishments unrivaled. Worse still, whenever the university ‘supplies’ a contingent into politics, it is politics that ends up converting the academics into its ways of doing things and not vice versa. A professor contesting for an elective office in Nigeria would equally go about the country eating roasted plantains and corn in the street the same way unschooled politicians do.
The professor’s practice of association and acceptance does not rise above the shameful playacting for which crude, hell-bound career politicians are known. If one should attempt to ascertain the difference between Nigerian political leaders with and those without a university education, one might be looking for a needle in a haystack. In sum, those who have built this great country over the years do not owe their greatness to university education. So, why should the country continue to prioritize university education funding?
‘Given its near uselessness to the actualization of the Nigerian dream, it is high time the government completely defunded public university education. And there cannot be a better time to do it than now. The indigent who want salvation from the capricious universities that open and shut their gates at will are all waiting to applaud the government for the rescue operation
There can be no better way to ensure a steady supply of idle hands to run politics at the grassroots as a service to the overseas-educated children of the rich and powerful who will take over the top leadership from their parents. We can always count on our underutilized religious institutions of mind control to normalize the development as a matter of destiny or fate sanctioned to be so by the gods. It is our peculiar way of building in modernity a prehistoric country.
Oladapo wrote from the University of Ibadan.